For this Jew, boycotting Israel is a bridge too far

Following my article in Crikey yesterday, David Imber responds today (under the headline: “This time Loewenstein, you went too far”):

As a Jew who is used to reading controversial pieces about Israel (and as someone who was friends with him at uni) I have been content to let the views of Antony Loewenstein go through to the keeper. He is a passionate man who is entitled to his opinions even though some of his facts have been proved wrong and some of his conclusions questionable.

I also haven’t minded him having a go at some of the more conservative voices in the Jewish community as it has brought some greater diversity to our internal debates and highlighted to the broader community the fact that not all Jews in Australia subscribe to the mindset that the Israeli Government (whoever they may be and whatever policies they may pursue) can do no wrong.

However, his Crikey piece yesterday goes way too far for me and should be rejected more broadly.

In essentially calling for (and lending his support to others who are undertaking) a boycott of Israel, Antony is calling for action which would punish the whole of a country for the extreme political views of a few. The Israel that I know and have visited over many years is a country of contrasts with a growing secularism and a yearning for peace and reconciliation among Jews and Palestinians/ Arabs. It is a country that encourages amazing ingenuity in fields as diverse as computing and the arts. It is a democracy, albeit at times a flawed one, that in the one Parliament covers the spectrum of opinion in Israel”‰—”‰from doves to hawks. It is a country more complex than the headlines and well worth the world engaging with and not shunning.

People are entitled to not agree with Israeli Government policy”‰—”‰but Israel is not a Burma, a North Korea or an Iran.

The nature of a democracy is that sometimes a minority extreme view can negatively influence the political mainstream and Israel certainly suffers regularly from unwieldy coalitions that have slowed moves to peace. Australia has had this too, with Senators Harradine and now Fielding having the balance at power and forcing minority positions on niche policy areas despite having virtually no mainstream support. And remember how to the rest of the world Pauline Hanson for a time defined Australians view on race despite having limited support nationally.

To call for a boycott that would hurt the many Israelis who voted for engagement and peace as much (if not more) than the few who voted against it is a self defeating and needlessly cruel attack on a people that have already suffered as a result of years of conflict. While Antony says it is not an attack on democratic Israel there is really no other way to see it than a stunt that seeks to do just that. Worse still it is yet another attempt at delegitimizing an entire country and its people including the poor and vulnerable (Arab as well as Jewish Israelis) who rely on the sort of social and economic support Governments can only deliver with a strong economy.

Antony has at times courageously highlighted the real pain felt by many Palestinians and may find it a pain he values more highly than that of Jewish victims of the many wars and attacks but a vengeful boycott of Israel is the worst way of bringing about the political change needed to address this situation.

Contributions such as yesterday’s and the sense that Antony will jump on any bandwagon, with anyone”‰—”‰regardless of their own respect for human rights”‰—”‰who criticises Israel, will only lose him more support from Australian Jews yearning for the sort of peace that I know my relatives in Israel are desperately hoping (and voting) for.